Monday, March 16, 2020

“to see life as it is and not as it should be”: Diary of a Plague Week, as CUNY and my city closed and we socially separated sortov


“too much sanity may be madness and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be” - Miguel de Cervantes
We were going to finish Don Quixote as a group next week.
But a few members suggested we put off meeting until the health crisis faded.
That would be a challenge for all of us.
Looking at  the text, the  message remains:
“to see life as it is and not as it should be”

Early in the week, my friend Greg started posting about the need for social separating.
No accessible tests.
No clear route of transmission.
To prevent the spread of disease, we separate from each other, to prevent exponential spread.
I started posting a lot.
My friend Mery started writing about CUNY needing to go to online classes.
When plagues come, we all have our reactions.
Here are a few of mine this week as schools closed and we started paying attention.

And Anthony Fauci, of NIH, suggested:
"Whenever you have an outbreak that you can start seeing community spread, which means by definition that you don't know what the index case is, and the way you can approach it is by contact tracing — when you have enough of that then it becomes a situation where you're not going to be able to effectively and efficiently contain it.
Whenever you look at the history of outbreaks, what you see now in an uncontained way — and although we are containing it in some respects, we keep getting people coming in from the country that are travel-related. We've seen that in many of the states that are now involved and then when you get community spread it makes the challenge much greater.
So I can say we will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now. How much worse it will get will depend on our ability to do two things: to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country.Bottom line, it's going to get worse."

Our first round of classes were closed Thursday, but librarians and higher education officers were still on at work.

Nora, one of our  librarians and labor organizers, and I met to tweet out a few pictures and hang a banner calling for more funding for CUNY, from the Manhattan Bridge,  Downtown Brooklyn:

@norasays #fundcunynow. If librarians are essential staff, how come we are the first budget cut? But in a crisis, who are you gonna call?

Our inability to respond is directly related to the austerity crisis, notes Cindy.
We don’t have the infrastructure.
We wonder, now that classes are online how do we connect with students with no wifi?

The inequalities of the system are becoming glaring. 
@norasays #solidarity with library and professional staff still at work during the crisis. #fundcunynow

@norasays good morning Brooklyn. If the library is essential staff, then why not fill all our unfilled lines and give us adjunct replacement lines for reassigned time?

Friday, I drop by the library,  where the librarians have been meeting.
People are scared for their students, elder parents and themselves, taking the message to our president.

#solidarity with the librarians,heos, and others still in campus at CUNY. People are scared. They are at risk. @psc_cuny #fundcunynow,” I tweet out, walking through library, looking at the stacks.

All of our weekend dinner parties are canceled. 
What about next week’s, I wonder. 
It’ll be like The Masque of Red Death says Caroline. 
Everything is canceled.
All dinner parties.
Plays.
Yoga Classes.
Public gatherings.

A message from House of Yes:
“Well, that was fast.
At 2pm today the governor's office announced that gatherings with 500+ people will not be permitted starting tomorrow (Friday) at 5pm. Facilities with an occupancy of 500 or fewer (which applies to House of Yes) are required to reduce our legal capacity by 50% in order to stay open. Given this news, we are shutting down all parties starting on Friday and shutting down all events following the weekend. We are automatically refunding all tickets through Tuesday, March 24. We cannot say at this time when we will reopen, but will continue issuing refunds for all cancelled events. We will continue to closely monitor the situation daily, and send updates as we have them. Tonight will be our last dance.
Tomorrow & Saturday will be our last theatre shows.
Both events will operate at half capacity.
We hope to stay well together in our decision to remain apart. We also hope the government will enact supportive measures for small businesses, artists, live performers, and freelancers that will cushion the very deep blow to our core community. If you'd like to advocate for city agencies to support venues during this period of uncertainty, share your thoughts with the Office of Nightlife here.If you'd like to be notified about how to support our artist community through this difficult time, join the House of Yes Community Group.
Thank you so much for your support - past, present, and future.
xoxo”

When things close in New York, sometimes they don’t reopen says Sarah.
I was going to watch her read this week with my old friend Prageeta.
That reading was canceled. 

I write and edit all afternoon.
My usual pace of working, writing, prepping for class, tons of meetings and gatherings is off.
It gets itchy.
“I’m not so good at social distancing.
I miss my students… My comrades…”
I write  on facebook, the day dragging on.
Its not that easy to step back from everything, the pace of your life,
Seeing the world, people out there, meeting, organizing, greeting.

But you have to take it seriously, said my friend Emily.
Social separation is solidarity.


These are times to think of new things, for new ideas and lives, new ways of  thinking about community and connection, or separation.

When Judson  Church announced plans to close Sunday, someone posts  a poem from ee cummings:

“i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear”


The president gives a national address, reading off a teleprompter, banning European flights here, not English or Irish, no logic, causing panics, calling this a foreign virus.

 “A foreign virus. At least he’s consistent,” replies Cleve Jones.
“Racist and stupid 24/7.”

His posts this week were the best.
“Straights: I can’t believe the government would leave people to die during an epidemic.
Gays: you don’t say.”

I make a grocery run.
All the frozen pizza and pasta is gone.
Non-perishables, gone.
My body shakes,  I feel sick inside.
It’s mad.
People are grabbing all they can.
Fears flash in front of my eyes.

We are taking care  of ourselves here, facing our biggest anxieties,
Starvation, chaos, a zombie apocalypse.

And where is the government?
Lets recall, this is the crowd that thinks the climate crisis is a hoax.
They are the ones who cut budgets for infectious diseases.
We wait for problems to happen instead of preventing them.
“The Dismantled State Takes on a Pandemic,” writes ALEX PAREENE, March 12, 2020 “Conservatives won their war on Big Government. Their prize is a pandemic.”

Friday, we go to the pub.
We know we shouldn’t.
But…
Its harm reduction.
We’re not always safe.
Social ties vs isolation.

We bike a lot, walk outside through the park.
Trying to keep a distance,
Taking in the air. 
Red Hook is quiet.
Vines crawl up the brownstones.
Murals remind.

By Sunday, everyone seems  to be  out. 
Everyone keeping a distance.
Its ok to let things go, said Pastrami, regarding his yoga practice.
Don’t get too attached.

I’m not so good at it either, says Jim recalling trying to shake someone’s hand he was  introduced to earlier in the week.

My friends in Italy can’t leave their houses.
And the death toll is rising.

Another friend posts

"A Song on the End of the World" from The Collected Poems 1931-1987 by Czeslaw Milosz.,  written in Warsaw, 1944

“On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.”

Its gorgeous day, the world popping with energy.

By the Sunday night,
Schools closed.
  We did it. Great work everyone.
Kids are going to be home  for a month.

 Barbara Bowen wrote to members of our union on Sunday night.

4,240 letters were sent this afternoon to Chancellor Matos Rodríguez and Chairperson Thompson calling on them to allow all PSC-represented employees to work remotely, starting tomorrow. The chancellor just made this announcement:

“Only CUNY essential personnel should report to work tomorrow, Monday, March 16, to their campuses and CUNY Central. Essential staff have already been designated, however, if you have any questions, please contact your supervisor.”

The announcement is a victory for everyone who lives or works in this city. CUNY management heard our message and put public health first. Now professional staff as well as all faculty will be able to protect their own health and the health of the community by staying home tomorrow. Everyone should continue to be paid as normal.

There will be more to discuss and many questions to answer, especially about work arrangements for the future. I’m sure there will still be knotty questions to resolve. But for now, we know that all of our co-workers at CUNY, those represented by other unions as well as those represented by the PSC, will be able to stay at home tomorrow, unless they have been designated “essential personnel.”  The PSC can now enter into negotiations with CUNY management about the issues that need to be settled.

Thank you, PSC members! Even as we appreciate this public health victory, there is a State budget to settle in Albany. We need the same power you showed this afternoon applied to the final stages of budget negotiations. Send this message tonight; Governor Cuomo and key legislators are starting to make decisions today. Tomorrow we will be back in touch with other messages you can send to demand that Albany makes critical investments in CUNY.

But for tonight, I hope you can feel a little safer. Thank you for standing up for each other, for our students, and for public health.

In solidarity,
Barbara Bowen
President, PSC/CUNY

Watching it all unfold, the panic, rationalizations, the calls for restaurants to  close, the daily tally of infections, and deaths, I find myself thinking about the contours of my life and history.
We all have our reactions and our histories, that work as filters.

The last lines of my first book about AIDS in San Francisco, White Nights and Ascending Shadows: suggest
“The cycles of the life and disease continue.  Stories about disease eventually all fall into the same form.  Whenever it looks like we are about to pull ourselves out, a new test returns malignant.  In the end, they all become retreads of Defoe’s A Journal and a Plague Year  and Camus’ The Plague.  “All we ever hear is ‘so and so’s dead’ and ‘so and so’s dying’ and if there were anyone left to mourn, the whole place would be filled with wailing and weeping,” Boccaccio’s heroines of 14th century pestilent Florence complained in perhaps the first work of pure fiction, The Decameron  (p.60).  .  Plagues offer insights into the contours, the mysteries of the shape of time.  They offer us inspiration to escape from our realities to other worlds, to other tales.  Boccaccio relieved his heroines by sending them out of the Church of Santa Maria Novella, where they had taken refuge, to the Tuscan country to tell stories.  As stories are prone to do, they sustained them.”


Hopefully ours will to.  
































































































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